Australia’s flying foxes are nomadic and fly long distances

Australian’s flying foxes were thought to set up home and stay put but research indicates that they are a nomadic species and like to find new places to live on a regular basis.

In Australian cities they hang from trees in their thousands causing people to try and move them on without success. This is because the population is constantly changing. Some move on while others move in.

At all times you have individuals coming in and other individuals moving out, like you would in a youth hostel. – Dr Justin Welbergen of Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment near Sydney

Flying fox
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Indian flying foxes (Pteropus giganteus giganteus), Jamtra, Madhya Pradesh, India. Photo: Wikipedia. Charles J Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography,

You can’t move them on because every morning there are new flying foxes coming in and they don’t know that they are not wanted there. He says that they are profoundly nomadic but not migratory. Using satellite trackers they discovered that most of the 201 animals tracked travelled 900-3700 miles per year. One particular nomadic individual was tracked travelling 7600 miles. It crisscrossed the country between Melbourne and central Queensland. In Australia, flying foxes inhabit the eastern and northern regions quite close to the coast.

Dr Welbergen who is also the president of the Australasia Bat Society said that bats were in the same league in terms of travelling huge distances as some migratory birds and even whales.

The bat that travelled 7600 miles had visited 123 roosts. More research will be carried out to predict their movements and learn what drives them to be such excellent travellers.

Flying foxes

Flying foxes are also known as fruit bats because they eat fruit and other plant matter. They sometimes eat insects and locate resources with their sense of smell. Most of them are nocturnal and they navigate with their eyesight as they do not have bio sonar. They have a long lifespan and although they vary in body weight the “large flying fox” has the longest forearm length and reported wingspan of any of the flying fox species. It’s wingspan can reach to 4 feet 11 inches.

They form large colonies or camps indicating that they are gregarious. These colonies can number 15,000 individuals with respect to the large flying fox while the little red flying fox can form colonies of up to 100,000 individuals. A few species and subspecies are solitary in nature.

They consume 25 to 35 percent of their bodyweight every day. The numbers are declining and there are threats of extinction because of human activity. One issue is that females generally only have one litter per year and litter size is one individual. It is preyed upon by the brown tree snake. They are also over hunted by indigenous people because it is part of their diet. There is conflict between flying foxes and farmers resulting in them being shot, beaten to death or poisoned. Accidental deaths are caused by entanglement with nets constructed to prevent them from eating fruit.

Flying foxes can carry zoonotic diseases including lyssaviruses which causes rabies. They are often considered pests because they damage orchard crops.

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